Four feet (ours) in a Yard House
Great food, service and beer…lots of beer

By Diane Catanzaro and Chris Jones



It is great to see so many improvements in the Hampton Roads beer scene in the past couple of years. The recent November opening of Yard House in Virginia Beach's Town Center is a big step forward in putting our region on a bigger beer map. Yard House is a beer-o-centric California-based restaurant chain that operates in 35 locations in multiple cities throughout the US of A. This is one of a handful of East Coast locations, and it is a must-visit for beer lovers.
Your typical beer joint this ain't. The decor is modern, black and chrome punctuated by original art. A circular bar contains a dizzying array of taps. The look of the restaurant is fairly sophisticated but for the array of televisions silently tuned to various sporting events. Classic rock plays at all Yard House locations, and there is even a phone app that will tell you what song is playing, in case you don't recognize Bob Dylan after a few pints.
It’s a big place.  OK, that’s an understatement, it’s a really big place.  How big is it?
You can fit a couple of basketball courts in this restaurant.  Sixty-one tables, including eight-person booths, seating for close to 300, with a seating/standing capacity of over 500.  That’s a lot of  folks, with beer in hand. Apparently packed on Friday and Saturday nights, we visited on a recent Monday after work, and were delighted to find happy hour prices on beverages and select appetizers.
How’s the beer selection? With 129 beers on tap, you’ll find a cool glass of something to wrap your hand around when you’re in the House. The sizeable menu includes beers, wines, sake, and fancy cocktails. The eye-popping variety of craft-brewed American and European beers is easily the largest selection of draft beer in the region.  There are six pale ales, including Norfolk’s own O’Connor Norfolk Canyon Pale Ale.  Pick from fourteen India Pale Ales, from both coasts, including Green Flash West Coast IPA, O’Connor Great Dismal Black IPA, Founders Centennial and their Rye PA.  Belgians include the Trappist Chimay tripel, St. Bernardus Abt 12, Piraat, Maredsous 10, and Lindeman's Framboise, a sweet raspberry lambic available by the glass or in an ice cream float as a divine dessert. They have several "house" beers brewed by California's top-rated Firestone Walker Brewing Company, and a house tripel brewed in Belgium at Brasserie de Silly. Fancy a heavy, strong brew? How about Old Rasputin Imperial Russian Stout on tap?  And for guys wanting to impress their first-date, order your beer in the popular, eye-catching Yard House glass, a yard-long 32-ounce pour.
Oh yes ... they do have food. Come on, you don't want to drink great beer on an empty stomach do you? The menu is vast and eclectic, with enough variety to please even the pickiest eaters. Beer menu got you bedeviled? Try their deviled eggs (sorry, no pig's feet). Carnivorous cravings? Sirloin or ribeye with garlic mashed potatoes, ten different burgers and St Louis style ribs are but a few meaty choices.  Seafood mood? Many options, such as ginger-crusted Norwegian salmon with wasabi mashed potatoes, seared sea scallops with sun dried tomato orzo, or grilled jumbo shrimp skewered on lemongrass stalks. Wait, there's more! Salads and sandwiches galore! Southern fried chicken. Six kinds of sliders. Sweet potato fries with maple bacon cream sauce.
For vegetarian and vegan folks there is an entire menu section featuring GardeinTM, a soy-based chicken or beef substitute that is pretty convincing in dishes like BBQ chicken salad, chicken with penne, and boneless wings. They also have many dishes that can be appropriate or modified for those with gluten sensitivity. There is also a children's menu for the small fry.  It's almost like they are trying to please everybody, for goodness sakes! It's a freaking fusion food-fest.
How many restaurants are there where you can nosh pizza and pint of pale ale, your shorty savors sushi and saison, your best bud jams on jambalaya and Joe's American Pilsner, and his squeeze downs a vegan beef slider and schwarzbier? This place has the yin and the yang of food down when they serve shrimp ceviche spoons alongside a 14-ounce New York steak .
We tried the coconut shrimp, lettuce wraps, and onion rings from the appetizer menu, and especially liked the yummy dipping sauces that came with each. Our dinners were tasty and the mini creme brulee dessert had Chris' mom swooning with delight. Service was friendly and eager to please.
One thing you can rest assured of at Yard House is that the beer will taste as the brewer intended. Too often we've been disappointed by draft beer fouled by dirty keg lines. Yard House has two optimally chilled keg rooms, glycol-jacketed refrigerated lines that keep the beer cold, and strict procedures for frequent cleaning, rinsing and sanitizing of the keg lines.
Classic beers and classic rock. You can almost hear Eric Burdon and the Animals sing: There is a house in Town Center, They call the Yard House, son, And it's filled with ale aficionados, And us, oh yeah, for one ...
Or two.

Yard House, 4553 Commerce Street, Virginia Beach Town Center, 490-9273




Stay-cation in Newport News

Beer with a scenic side of nature and museums makes Hilton Village area a great at-home adventure

By Diane Catanzaro and Chris Jones
    Autumn is an auspicious time of year; the crisp crackle of crunchy leaves beneath your boots, bulky wool sweaters to discreetly warm the muffin-tops, and a natural gravitational pull toward the fuller, darker beers.  Yet, autumn can make us feel a bit guilty. Shouldn't we be off on a leaf-peeping weekend? Yes, but there's not enough time or money.  How about something cultural, like a visit to a museum or theater?  Or, maybe a beautiful hike in a natural area? Sounds good, but once again, we're pressed for time. What if we told you that you can do all these things, and drink good beer, within a half an hour of downtown Norfolk? Crazy? Maybe, but maybe not. We're talking Newport News.

Major stop:  Hilton Village, originally built as American's first federal war-housing project back in 1918 when 500 English village-style homes were built to provide much-needed housing for employees at Newport News Shipbuilding.  Today, this small pedestrian-friendly section of Warwick Boulevard has a community theater, a few shops and restaurants, and the Hilton Tavern, which earned honorable mentions for "Under the  Radar" and "Most Improved Beer Selection " in the first annual Veer Beer awards. They also have garnered a Daily Press Choice Award, "Best Hamburger in Newport News," for their 100% Angus beef hand-patted burgers. 

Lee Steveson, a retired engineer from Northrop-Grumman, cashed in his chips and bought Ray's Hilton Country Club, which opened in 1930 and spent many years as a biker bar.  Fast forward to November 2010, scrub decades of cigarette smoke off the walls, clean down to the wood, paint everything in bright and cheerful hues, get in an outstanding selection of American craft beers and voila, the rechristened Hilton Tavern is a place where you can drink beer and bring your family. A recent visit on a Friday night found most tables filled with people chatting and eating things like Philly steak sandwiches, steamed shrimp, and pulled pork BBQ from the value-priced menu.  You can spot friendly folks at the bar, a couple of families with children enjoying beer and burgers, a guy playing cover tunes on a keyboard, and a few folks playing pool; perhaps the lack of hard liquor enhances the family-friendly atmosphere. 

By far, the best thing about the Hilton Tavern is written on the chalkboard as you enter. It's the beer list! Over 100 beers in the bottle, and 10 on tap, most of which are craft beer.  A few highlights from a recent visit:  Southern Tier Unearthly, a grapefruit hop-bomb from heaven, and their Choklat and Creme Brulee Stouts. These stouts are like alcohol-laced bittersweet chocolate kisses from the beer goddess Ninkasi.  UMMMMmmmmm.....You'll  also find killer beers from Denver's Great Divide (Old Ruffian Barleywine, Yeti  Imperial Stout and the Yeti Chocolate Oak-aged version),  Green Flash Hop Head Red,  Lagunitas Censored, Rogue Dead Guy and the Chipotle Ale, Weyerbacher Quad,  Schlafly's Pumpkin Ale, Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, New Belgium Fat Tire and Hoptober.  For those who like their suds Belgian-style, you'll appreciate Allagash White, Duvel, New Belgium Trippel, Ommegang Three Philosophers and the classic Ommegang Abbey. This is just a smattering of our favorites. Oh yes, and for your not-so-adventurous-friends, there is Bud Light on tap. Best of all worlds!  Plus live music six nights a week beginning around 8 pm, and Thursday night karaoke.  The Hilton Tavern is at 10184 Warwick Blvd., Newport News. Open daily at 11 a.m. until closing (2 a.m. on weekends); call ‘em, 757.599.9888

Hilton Village also has two other restaurants where you can get a decent beer. Circa 1918 is just across the street and a block or two north, in the heart of Hilton Village. Fine dining from the folks who brought you Create Bistro, Circa 1918 has creative American fare and a few well-chosen craft beers. Reservations are needed; this restaurant is small and popular.

Just a few steps of Warwick Boulevard is 99 Main Street. They have an open kitchen, ample seating, and a warm ambiance. Although they put more effort into myriad martinis and fine wines, the beer selection always has a couple of craft or interesting imports to choose from. A recent visit found two different pumpkin ales from Dogfish and Cottonwood, as well as an authentic German lager from Augustinerbrau.

Okay, we promised you more than just beer on this autumnal 'staycation.'  Five minutes north on Warwick Boulevard, where it intersects J. Clyde Morris Boulevard's southern terminus, you can oogle art at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center, check out the USS Monitor's actual briny turret and walk the deck on a full-sized replica of the “cheesebox-on-a-raft” at the Mariner's Museum, and take the kids to see native animals in a natural-like habitat at the Virginia Living Museum.  Finally, close out your sojourn by taking in a show at the acoustically acclaimed Ferguson Center at Christopher Newport University (Chinese acrobats, magical illusionists, Lewis Black, and Paul Anka are all playing there in November).

But what about the leaf peeping? Best kept secret in Tidewater...the Noland Trail. A five-mile hike in the woods around Lake Maury (another well-kept secret), with some of the best leaf color in Hampton Roads during November. At the intersection of Warwick Blvd and J. Clyde South, J. Clyde becomes Avenue of the Arts/University Place where you see the replica of a big ship's blades. Take Avenue of the Arts, then turn left onto Museum Drive. You can park for free in the lot on the right, and find the trail head nearby. Or, take Museum Drive all the way to the far end, and there is a parking lot with a beautiful view of the James River, and lot of ducks. There is a trailhead there as well. We always find the five-mile loop intimidating, so we just go halfway and then turn around and head back. Easy as pie. It's good to know that five minutes down the road we can get back to Hilton Village for sustenance and good beer.